The Korowai of Papua New Guinea

Until the early 1970s, the Korowai people of Papua, New Guinea had no contact with the outside world.  Their first documented encounter with Westerners occurred in 1974, when a scientific expedition came upon a group of 30 Korowai men.

The Korowai build their homes high up in the tree tops.  Their homes are are typically about 20 to 40 feet high (6 to 12 m) but can be as tall as 115 feet (35 m).  This keeps them high above the flood waters, as Papua is one of the wettest places on earth, with an annual rainfall of 200 inches.   Additionally, the height of the houses provides the families with a sort of fortification to prevent attack from rival clans and, at least historically, headhunting tribes.

Reportedly, the Korowai have a tradition of cannibalism, which is practiced less and less* but still occurs today. The victims are believed by those who eat them to be “Khakhua-Kumu,” or witches who take on human form and eat men’s insides.   When a person dies and is believed to have been killed by a khakhua, the suspect is killed and eaten as a form of justice.  If the khakhua is a member of the same clan, they are taken to a friendly neighboring clan to be cannibalized.

The traditions of the Korowai are dying out, as the young people move away and only the older clan members remain in the tree houses.  How much longer the old way of life will survive is anyone’s guess but experts believe the end of their traditional culture is near.

 

 

 

* “Rupert Stasch, an anthropologist at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, who has lived among the Korowai for 16 months and studied their culture, writes in the journal Oceania that Korowai say they have ‘given up’ killing witches partly because they were growing ambivalent about the practice and partly in reaction to several incidents with police.” (source: Smithsonian Magazine)

 

Sources:
Wikipedia; BBC; Amusing Planet; Smithsonian Magazine.

 

 

 

 

Post by Anis Salvesen.

The Korowai of Papua New Guineakkkkafjdkadj

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